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Bibimbap, or “mixed rice,” is a savory Korean dish which usually incorporates rice, vegetables, sauces, and in some cases, meats and eggs. It is often associated with the Korean city of Jeonju, and it is believed that it has been a central part of Korean cuisine since the 19th century. While the exact ingredients of bibimbap can vary widely, the dish commonly contains pickled cucumber, fernbrake, bellflower root, and a fiery pepper paste called kochujang. Many Western diners are familiar with the variation of this dish known as dol sot bibimbap, which is presented in a hot stone bowl.
The word bibimbap translates to “mixed rice.” This name provides a fairly accurate description of the nature of this dish. It is usually served in a bowl and consists of a layer of rice which is topped with various vegetables, known as namul, as well as kochujang sauce, meat such as grilled steak, and in some cases, a raw or fried egg. Once the dish has been presented, the diner stirs it vigorously so the flavors become mixed.
It is believed that this dish has been a central part of Korean cuisine since the 19th century. As of the early 21st century, it is commonly associated with the southwestern Korean city of Jeonju, where it is considered to be a specialty. In fact, Jeonju is often frequented by tourists who have traveled there with the express purpose of sampling the local bibimbap.
Exact bibimbap recipes can vary widely, and variations are more or less limited only by the cook’s imagination. Some incorporate fish instead of meat, for instance, or barley instead of rice. More traditional interpretations of the dish, however, usually share a few common ingredients. Among these are plant stems known as fernbrake, bellflower root, pickled cucumber, and kochujang paste. While it was once difficult for cooks in Western countries to source these ingredients, as of the 21st century, dried versions are sold in many Asian supermarkets.
Many Western diners are familiar with the version of bibimbap known as dol sot bibimbap. This interpretation of the dish is served in a very hot stone bowl which has been coated with sesame oil. The oil and the bowl’s heat cause the dish’s rice layer to become toasted and flavorful. It is believed that this is not actually a traditional form of the dish, but one which was invented by Korean restaurateurs in the 1970s.